Thursday, January 31, 2013

3 ways to deal with unethical leadership

And the men of David said to him, "Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, "Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you." Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul's robe. And afterward David's heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul's robe. He said to his men, "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord's anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord's anointed."I Samuel 24:1-6

This is one of the more counter-cultural scenes in Scripture. Saul is doing everything in his power to destroy David.

For David, King Saul represents the ultimate enemy and he literally runs for his life in order to survive. One day, David catches Saul in a vulnerable state. Saul enters the very cave where David and his renegade band of soldiers are hiding.

The men encourage David to seize the moment; kill Saul; do to him exactly what he is trying to do you. Kill him and be done with him and your life will be better.

David, being one hundred percent human, succumbs to their kill or be killed advice. He sneaks up on his enemy, but instead of killing him, pulls out his knife and cuts away a portion of his clothing. David would later use this as evidence that even though he had King Saul in his hand, he did not kill him.

Strangely, David takes no pleasure in what he did. He had violated an unwritten code of conduct regarding honoring and respecting leadership.

Deep in his heart David knew he had done wrong. Saul was not a good leader. He was deeply unethical, insecure, petty, emotionally immature, and for the most part ineffective, all that's true, but David knew that Saul was still God's appointed leader; and this alone demands respect for God’s leader. Respect for the person, respect for his office and by respecting Saul, David was honoring God.

Notice what he said, God forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord's anointed.

I don't know the challenges you are facing at work, in your home or in your church. But one thing is certain: in all walks of life we will face good leaders and we will encounter bad leaders.

Working with good, compassionate, visionary, and highly ethical leadership is a joy. That’s easy!

But what about working with people who lack decency, who are out to get you and undermine your work? What about those leaders who make your life and work conditions a living hell? What do you do?

First, I sympathize with you. Working in such conditions is never easy. But the last thing you want is for your attitude and behavior to be shaped by those who hate you.

Jesus said the most counter-cultural thing ever:
"You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:43-45

So what do you do when faced with an unethical leader? Here are some godly possibilities:

1. Protect your heart. Don't allow the behavior of this person to transform you and squeeze you into their mold or ways of behaving. Don't allow this person to push your buttons. As Jesus said, let love and compassion push your buttons. The Croatian theologian, Miroslav Volf had this to say: 
To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one. The first victory happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned. After the first victory, evil would die if the second victory did not infuse it with new life.
 2. Show respect. While you may not respect the person, you are called by the Lord to respect their authority and their position. So if you are given an assignment, the fact that the leader is unethical does not give you the right to ignore their leadership, undermine or otherwise devalue their authority in your life. I know, this is hard. But with Christ, who knew how to submit even to his enemies, all things are possible.

3. Pray for this person. One of the most subversive acts in the face of evil is to actually pray for the evil person. Instead of returning blow for blow, or an eye for an eye, as David's companions urged him, you are granted through the power of prayer and the Spirit, the ability to walk in love even toward this unethical person.

In the end, God will be glorified and the power of the resurrected Christ to supplant evil in the world will be seen.

What other advice would you offer when living and working with unethical people?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

What makes a great church?

That’s a question all Christians should ask themselves. Not just pastors, not just worship leaders, not just the most gifted volunteers, but every Christian. And we need to be asking this question because God has some specific ideas about what it means to be a great church.

Many of us think we go to a great church. After all, nobody ever sets out on a spiritual journey to find the most mediocre, lukewarm church around. No, when most us of describe a great church, a successful church, what we are really talking about is a church that meets our needs.

The church has preaching that makes us feel good or challenges us just a little, but not too much. The music is pleasing to us, meaning the church has drums or doesn’t have drums (depending on which we prefer). The church has a program or two that is right up our alley and makes us feel as if we have a place to serve.

And there is nothing wrong with good preaching, good music, and well-run programs. But these things do not define a successful church. We are on dangerous ground when we seek to define a successful church. We are on dangerous ground when we seek to define the worth of a church by how it meets our felt needs. Instead, we have to start defining success of a church based on God’s criteria.

Then we don’t run the risk of spending every Sunday for the rest of our lives completely missing the heart of God. A great church, a healthy church, is one in which Jesus Christ is found in word and deed. The emphasis here is on the word “and.” A healthy church isn’t just a preaching church. A successful church isn’t simply a hub for social justice. A God-honoring, gospel-loving church is one where the Word of God is the primary motivator for doing the work of God. From: For the City: Proclaiming and Living Out the Gospel.  Zondervan

What do you think? What makes a great church? Share your thoughts!

Friday, January 25, 2013

10 steps to living life on purpose

Here are ten things you could do in the next fifteen minutes that would make a drastic difference in your day:

1. Call a family member whom you have not spoken to in a while. Tell them you love them. Honor them.

2. Make a list of the top five priorities in your life today. Prioritize them. Now act on them in order, completing each priority or making major progress on some portion of it.

3. Invite a close friend to dinner.

 4. You know that thing you’ve been putting off? Do it.

5. Begin your next big project, no matter how big it is. When I could not get started on a term paper in high school, my teacher told me, “Starting is half finished.” A huge encouragement then— and now.

6. If you don’t have a next big project, come up with one. It can be something as simple as organizing the garage. Or it can be as big as writing a book.

7. Start reading the book you’ve been meaning to pick up.

 8. Exercise. Begin living healthily. Enjoy the gift that is your body.

9. Crank up some of your favorite music and jump around. Dance. Celebrate the day! Celebrate this moment!

10. Go outside and breathe deeply. Be still. Listen. Be grateful. Simply say, thank YOU!

From:. 20,000 Days and Counting: The Crash Course For Mastering Your Life Right Now by Robert Smith (p. 98). Thomas Nelson.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sarah Schemes

One of the many blessings of being pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Evanston is engaging with very biblically literate Christians. Each week, I work with, fellowship and preach to people who know and read their bible. The following is a reflection on Genesis 16:1-16, written by a member of our congregation who decided to take up my challenge to the congregation to read through all of Scripture in 2013.
Sarah schemes
Sarah can’t wait for God’s plan and blames her infertility on God.  I think that she is angry.  She takes her future into her own hands.  Have we seen this pattern before?  Sarah tells Abraham to take her maidservant and then, out of anger, Sarah mistreats her maidservant. 
I feel badly for Hagar.  I don’t  like anyone to be mistreated.
Hagar begins to run away from the mistreatment.  God asks her where she is coming from and where she is going?  I love God’s questions.  This is just like when he asks Adam and Eve where they are after they sin.  God always knows where we are coming from, where we are, and where we are going  I think that the specific words are not meant to comfort Hagar as much as they are to assure Hagar that her plight has been seen and that God is in her presence.  It is always God’s presence that comforts us. The “words” really are of little matter.  His presence is beyond words.  God does not allow Hagar to become a “restless wanderer” like Cain.   He does not “scatter” her like the people of Babel. God tells her to return.
Hagar wants a new beginning.  Sometimes I want a new beginning too.  I think that it is difficult to know when to run and when to stay in life.   When do we set out with our tents to a new place?   When do we pitch our tents and stay?  I envy the Jews in the wilderness because they had a cloud – a visible sign of God’s presence – to tell them when to go and when to stay. 
I do know that if we leave a place of difficulty where God has put us, we are missing His blessing.  I also know that if we stay in a place of comfort to serve ourselves, because we feel safe and provided for, we are missing God’s purpose. 
Either way, God can use us.  He can overcome our bad decisions and offer us a new purpose and a new sense of direction.  Still, it is best to listen to God’s voice.  The more we listen, the clearer His voice and His presence becomes.   Isn’t this the greatest blessing of all – to be traveling life’s road with the King?

Out of the mouths of children: "I have a Dream!"



Monday, January 14, 2013

How to handle emails

I am reading through a very helpful book called, Extreme Productivity, by Robert C. Pozen. He recommends the acronym OHIO, which means Only Handle it Once. Apply this idea to how we handle the flood of emails we receive each week and his idea begins to make sense. Hope you find a way to integrate this into your life.

·         Don’t get addicted to your email by checking it constantly! You’ll only distract yourself when you should be doing something else more productive. Instead, check your email on a set schedule— every hour or so. One caveat: if your boss insists that you reply to his or her emails immediately, you may grudgingly have to meet his or her time demands.  

·         If you want to be more ambitious in kicking your email addiction, you’ll need the cooperation of your colleagues. Work collectively with your firm to call an “email holiday”— a set hour (or more) each week when emails are banned. 

·         If there’s a long thread of emails back and forth, look at the most recent reply first. The latest reply may have resolved whatever issues were brought up earlier in the conversation.
•  Your inbox may be overflowing with “FYI” emails copied to you from your subordinates. If you are overwhelmed by such emails, ask your colleagues and employees to be more selective about what they send along.
•  Similarly, think before you hit “reply all.” Does everyone really need to see your latest response?
•  Lastly, a big pet peeve of mine: resist the urge to send a one-word reply saying, “Thanks!” Instead, show your thankfulness by minimizing the flow of emails to the person who first sent the email.
 Pozen, Robert C. (2012-10-02). Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours (p. 36). HarperBusiness.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

5 truths Scripture says about your life

The brevity of life. Job is not paranoid, fatalistic, or negative. Most of  us ignore this reality and wish it away. Job states the obvious.

 “Man who is born of a woman
  is few of days and full of trouble.
 He comes out like a flower and withers;
  he flees like a shadow and continues not.
(Job 14:1-2 ESV)

Two years ago we removed a tree from our front yard. We didn't want to do this but after a powerful storm one night, we came outside and noticed that the tree was split near the top. Fearing that it might fall with the help of the next stiff wind on our property or on our neighbor's, we had to remove it, stump and all. That was two years ago!

This week, we had to call in the plumbers because all the water in our house was backed up. After sometime, the plumbers showed us the cause of the blockage: tree roots. Even though we had removed the tree the roots kept spreading and actually prevented water from flowing out of our house.

Job is right about the tree: it's hard to keep a tree down. But he seems tentative about life and death. When a person dies, what happens to the person?

 “For there is hope for a tree,
  if it be cut down, that it will sprout again,
  and that its shoots will not cease.
 Though its root grow old in the earth,
  and its stump die in the soil,
 yet at the scent of water it will bud
  and put out branches like a young plant.
 But a man dies and is laid low;
  man breathes his last, and where is he?
(Job 14:7-10 ESV)

Later on in his discourse he gives a definitive word that seems to address his tentative question above. What happens to a person who dies? Job says, after my skin is destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God. What's the basis for his bold claim? Faith in his Redeemer to rescue him from death's clutches.
 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
  and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
  yet in my flesh I shall see God,
 whom I shall see for myself,
  and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
  (Job 19:25-27 ESV)

The New Testament confirms what Job says:  So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)

He continues....
 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5 ESV)

The conclusion of the matter is this:

Life is short
Death is real
Christ our Redeemer is greater than death and all of life's troubles.
Therefore, we will not lose heart, but live each day to the glory of God!!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Haiti orphanage opens three years after quake

Given all that Haiti has been through, this report about the opening of a new orphanage is good news.
January 12 is the three year anniversary of the devastating earthquake.

WORLD | Haiti orphanage opens three years after quake | Daniel James Devine | Jan. 7, 2013

Honest to God

In late teens and early adult years I was part of a very dynamic and growing congregation. I loved the preaching, the worship, the fellowship, but there was one thing I could not understand: why was everyone always so bubbly and victorious? 

Folks around me seemed on top of their world and I felt like a loser among champions of the faith. Years later I found out through honest conversations with some of my friends that the culture of the congregation did not give space for honest expressions of failure, doubts and pain.

So people faked it.

I am reading through Job. His friends sound like some of my childhood friends: if you live right then everything should come up roses.

Job will have none of their plastic, phony, artificial faith. Life cannot be reduced to simplistic formulas.

Job is honest with God and his friends. Listen to what he said:   
“I loathe my life;
            I will give free utterance to my complaint;
                        I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.
            I will say to God, Do not condemn me;
                        let me know why you contend against me. (Job 10:1-2 ESV)

This is so healthy on many levels:
  1. He is honest with God
  2. He is honest with his “friends.”
  3. He is honest with himself
  4. He has nothing to prove; nor is he trying to impress others
  5. He throws himself on the integrity of God

Wouldn't it be great if our churches became places where people stopped posing; ditched artificial smiles and a dressed up faith and instead were honest before God and others?

People in our world looking for a faith that is authentic might just take notice of the power of Christ in our expressed weakness (I Corinthians 2:1-5).

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Remember this if you want to grow in 2013

Eugene Peterson describes Christian perseverance as “a long obedience in the same direction.” That is just about perfect.
Holiness requires a long obedience in the same direction, staying on the field of battle and remaining there.
The Christian life is often just a matter of simple obedience, putting one foot in front of the other and refusing to fall or falter.
The difficulty for most of us is the long part. We want everything to happen now. As Peterson explains, this impulse is deadly for the Christian life:
Everyone is in a hurry. The persons whom I lead in worship, among whom I counsel, visit, pray, preach, and teach, want shortcuts. They want me to help them fill in the form that will get them instant credit (in eternity). They are impatient for results. They have adopted the lifestyle of a tourist and only want the high points.  .  .  . The Christian life cannot mature under such conditions and in such ways.
There are no shortcuts to Christian maturity. Isn’t this what Jesus said in Matthew  16:24?
This means if we want to grow in areas of prayer, reading through Scripture, sharing Christ with others, practicing generosity, these virtues will not happen overnight by human will power. We can't microwave these practices into our lives.
Growth takes time and it takes the grace of God, plus patience and willingness to follow Jesus all the way. Growth demands input from others who are also on the journey with us.
May the Lord richly bless you with the desire and the patience to follow Jesus all the way in 2013!